August 23, 2021
The line separating documentary from propaganda is often blurred as filmmakers’ biases inevitably seep into their films’ narratives, obfuscating the subjects in lieu of the artists’ political penchants. But by revealing their biases up front, filmmakers can avoid subverting their audiences and leave it up to them to arrive at their own conclusions.
This is not the approach taken by filmmaker Ra’anan Alexandrowicz. The Israeli documentarian made a name for himself writing and directing a litany of anti-Israel projects, including The Law in These Parts in 2011. The filmfeatured a message from Bassem Tamimi, a convict who recruited a cadre of Palestinians to throw stones at IDF soldiers and the cousin of the orchestrator of the Jerusalem Sbarro pizzeria bombing in 2001 that killed 15 civilians.
The Viewing Booth, Alexandrowicz’s latest film,revisits the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but purports to do so through the lens of pro-Israel university students in America.
Alexandrowicz invites pro-Israel university students into his studio, where he places them in a booth and presents them with a stream of videos on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In these dark confines, Alexandrowicz films his subjects as they select and watch the clips, engaging them for their reactions and interpretations of the events as they unfold.
For reasons unexplained, Alexandrowicz spliced together scenes from only one of the seven students who agreed to be filmed for the documentary. The most likely reason is that she gave him all the reactions and responses he needed to bolster his narrative.
Although filming someone’s candid reactions to information challenging their preconceived notions is an interesting idea, in The Viewing Booth, this premise is never fully realized. It is instead hampered by Alexandrowicz’s biases toward Israel and his eagerness to paint Israel as the antagonist at any cost, even at the expense of his own film.
Through the film’s pithy 100-minute run time, Alexandrowicz demurs from challenging his own views toward Israel. Instead, the film relies on young, empathetic, and impressionable college students’ reactions to validate his biases.
Alexandrowicz’s biases are riddled throughout the film. Either unaware of their existence or simply indifferent to how they skew his work, Alexandrowicz explains to the college student that of the 40 videos he had compiled, “20 of them have been put online by a human rights organization in Israel, called B’Tselem, the other 20 by either the Israeli army spokesman or YouTube channels that are more on the conservative, right-wing side.”
Immediately framing the Israeli-Palestinian issue in the context of politics, Alexandrowicz pigeonholes supporters of Israel as a “right-wing” faction, while maintaining that Israel’s zealous opponents merely stem from a concern for “human rights.”
B’Tselem, who Alexandrowicz introduced under the guise of “human rights,” is a vehemently anti-Zionist organization that, on its website , states, “The Israeli regime enacts in all the territory it controls an apartheid regime.” In a creed that reads like musings from Yasser Arafat’s diary, B’Tselem also claims that the Jewish state is inherently at odds with democracy and premised on the idea of perpetuating “Jewish supremacy.”
Most of the documentary is spent on one B’Tselem video capturing a nighttime house search in the West Bank where a group of IDF soldiers awakens and questions a Palestinian family. Though no context for the situation is provided, Alexandrowicz continuously prods the young student, like a police interrogator, trying to lead her to his own foregone conclusions about what happened in the clip, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more broadly.
The Viewing Booth not only tries to portray Israel as a nefarious aggressor in the Middle East but also goes further, scolding its diaspora. Alexandrowicz tries to paint American Jews as brainwashed pawns who have been surreptitiously conditioned to support the Jewish state by never being shown out-of-context B’Tselem clips.
The film had a compelling premise: to challenge people’s preconceived notions about a significant issue by exposing them to contrasting views and capturing their candid reactions. It would have been interesting to see, alongside the film’s existing crop of clips shown to pro-Israel students, someone such as pro-Palestine supermodel Bella Hadid react to reading such facts as the Palestinian Authority paying stipends to families of terrorists who murder Jews.
But this never happens. The film fixates on challenging a pro-Israel Jewish girl into doubting her support for her ethnic homeland. Despite Alexandrowicz’s attempts at challenging preconceptions, it was ironically his own biases that marred the film, denigrating it from documentary to hackneyed propaganda.
Originally Published at The Washington Examiner